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Jelly Roll Morton

One of the very first giants of jazz, Jelly Roll Morton did himself a lot of harm posthumously by exaggerating his worth, claiming to have invented jazz in 1902. Morton's accomplishments as an early innovator are so vast that he did not really need to stretch the truth.

Morton was jazz's first great composer, writing such songs as "King Porter Stomp," "Grandpa's Spells," "Wolverine Blues," "The Pearls," "Mr. Jelly Roll," "Shreveport Stomp," "Milenburg Joys," "Black Bottom Stomp," "The Chant," "Original Jelly Roll Blues," "Doctor Jazz," "Wild Man Blues," "Winin' Boy Blues," "I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say," "Don't You Leave Me Here," and "Sweet Substitute." He was a talented arranger (1926's "Black Bottom Stomp" is remarkable), getting the most out of the three-minute limitations of the 78 record by emphasizing changing instrumentation, concise solos and dynamics. He was a greatly underrated pianist who had his own individual style. Although he only took one vocal on records in the 1920s ("Doctor Jazz"), Morton in his late-'30s recordings proved to be an effective vocalist. And he was a true character.

Jelly Roll Morton's pre-1923 activities are shrouded in legend. He started playing piano when he was ten, worked in the bordellos of Storyville while a teenager (for which some of his relatives disowned him) and by 1904 was traveling throughout the South. He spent time in other professions (as a gambler, pool player, vaudeville comedian and even a pimp) but always returned to music. The chances are good that in 1915 Morton had few competitors among pianists and he was an important transition figure between ragtime and early jazz. He played in Los Angeles from 1917-1922 and then moved to Chicago where, for the next six years, he was at his peak. Morton's 1923-24 recordings of piano solos introduced his style, repertoire and brilliance. Although his earliest band sides were quite primitive, his 1926-27 recordings for Victor with his Red Hot Peppers are among the most exciting of his career. With such sidemen as cornetist George Mitchell, Kid Ory or Gerald Reeves on trombone, clarinetists Omer Simeon, Barney Bigard, Darnell Howard or Johnny Dodds, occasionally Stomp Evans on C-melody, Johnny St. Cyr or Bud Scott on banjo, bassist John Lindsay and either Andrew Hilaire or Baby Dodds on drums, Morton had the perfect ensembles for his ideas. He also recorded some exciting trios with Johnny and Baby Dodds.

With the center of jazz shifting to New York by 1928, Morton relocated. His bragging ways unfortunately hurt his career and he was not able to always get the sidemen he wanted. His Victor recordings continued through 1930 and, although some of the performances are sloppy or erratic, there were also a few more classics. Among the musicians Morton was able to use on his New York records were trumpeters Ward Pinkett, Red Allen and Bubber Miley, trombonists Geechie Fields, Charles Irvis and J.C. Higginbotham, clarinetists Omer Simeon, Albert Nicholas and Barney Bigard, banjoist Lee Blair, guitarist Bernard Addison, Bill Benford on tuba, bassist Pops Foster and drummers Tommy Benford, Paul Barbarin and Zutty Singleton.

But with the rise of the Depression, Jelly Roll Morton drifted into obscurity. He had made few friends in New York, his music was considered old-fashioned and he did not have the temperament to work as a sideman. During 1931-37 his only appearance on records was on a little-known Wingy Manone date. He ended up playing in a Washington D.C. dive for patrons who had little idea of his contributions. Ironically Morton's "King Porter Stomp" became one of the most popular songs of the swing era, but few knew that he wrote it. However in 1938 Alan Lomax recorded him in an extensive and fascinating series of musical interviews for the Library of Congress. Morton's storytelling was colorful and his piano playing in generally fine form as he reminisced about old New Orleans and demonstrated the other piano styles of the era. A decade later the results would finally be released on albums.

Morton arrived in New York in 1939 determined to make a comeback. He did lead a few band sessions with such sidemen as Sidney Bechet, Red Allen and Albert Nicholas and recorded some wonderful solo sides but none of those were big sellers. In late 1940, an ailing Morton decided to head out to Los Angeles but, when he died at the age of 50, he seemed like an old man. Ironically his music soon became popular again as the New Orleans jazz revivalist movement caught fire and, if he had lived just a few more years, the chances are good that he would have been restored to his former prominence (as was Kid Ory).

Jelly Roll Morton's early piano solos and classic Victor recordings (along with nearly every record he made) have been reissued on CD. ~ Scott Yanow, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: The Complete Library Of Congress Recordings (Explicit)

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3
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Disc 6
Disc 7
Disc 8

Comments

arredondo.ad a m
As somebody pointed out 5 years ago, this bio is not entirely accurate. Jelly Roll did not write The Chant (Mel Stizel) OR Doctor Jazz (King Oliver)
He was, is, and always will be, a Ragtime Superstar!!!
Thank u, Pandora, 4 the 79,000th time in the last 24 hrs........
@Levyaahron1 1 1 - Google is a wonderful thing. Here's a result of a search on your lyrics: Shake That Thing (take 2)-Papa Charlie Jackson
D position, standard tuning

http://weeni e c a m p b e l l . c o m / w i k i / i n d e x . p h p ? t i t l e = S h a k e _ T h a t _ T h i n g _ ( t a k e _ 2 )
levyaahron11 1
My father used to sing part of a song that had these words, dear uncle Jack, just got back from shakin that jelly roll thing I'd love to find the recording. Does anyone know who sang it or anything about it?
I don't know about that New York story with Willie Smith. I heard the stride guys used to refer to him as 'Mr. No-hands' because he didn't have that monster left hand that they did. That being said he could play and it really doesn't matter because his place in Jazz history is assured. He was a founding father regardless of the fact that he didn't 'invent' Jazz. The Library of Congress recordings are a revelation and a talking history of Jazz. Not to be missed.
1156035694
Don't forget about Scott Joplin.
Jelly Roll is what jazz is about. Full of flavor of Storyville.
Check out his recordings for the Library of Congress. Some great stuff. He sure didn't seem like the most pleasant guy. Arrogant but a great artist. He definitely was an important part in jazz history.
robertlemon3
After being taunted by some young guys in front of a New York club that the stride players frequented he proceeded to sit down and outplay Willie the Lion Smith. All mouths were shut after that.
Reminds me of my New Orleans roots! Jelly, Jelly, Jelly Roooooooll.. . .
He had diamonds inlaid into his teeth, was a pimp if needed to add to his income; he wasn't a nice guy, did not invent jazz, but was an original and a great composer straight out of the New Orleans scene; he died in 1940 in Los Angeles; other times and other styles had made him obsolete.
harmed himself posthumorous l y ? before we all started laughing this author off the stage? when will they change this? maybe he did invent jazz after all ... who else? the satch? you really think it was a team effort? teams create great new ideas all the time, right? .... in your dreams.
Jelly Roll Morton is a Zombie!!!!?? ? :O

@ tanneken- duh! I guess I'm guilty of bad phrasing too.
It means it did harm to himself after he was dead by his bragging when he was alive.
tanneken
I think, backup3, that Timothy Sellers was joking, saying that the way the biography is worded makes it seem like Morton harmed his reputation after he died. Obviously, one can't brag when one is dead. The paragraph could be misinterpret e d , it just requires careful reading.
i'm impressed by jelly roll's invention of jazz -- but truly amazed by his"posthumo u s bragging."-- - - - - - - - - N O S**T! , what was that supposed to mean?
In answer to Cee, Morton worked in a brothel, he was the "can rusher". He wouldn't mind if you called him Mr. Jelly Lord instead. In answer to others, if Jelly's Red Hot Peppers wasn't the best ever Dixieland band (apologies to LOUIS) then he's #2.
i'm impressed by jelly roll's invention of jazz -- but truly amazed by his"posthumo u s bragging."
Why can't they just make a station with ALL 20s JAZZ?!? I don't like the '40s and '50s in my mix...who would've guessed he's nicknamed after female genitalia.
dianagarza41 8 7
I LOVE HIS MUSIC GREAT PIANIST LOVE JAZZZ , GREAT GREAT, GREAT
Great!
If I followed the dates correctly this has Morton claiming to have invented jazz at the age of 12?
mmmhhmmm love that sound smiles:)
grahn8
Jelly Roll sounds like he has 4 hands... like a piano roll.
First great jazz composer. Spread the New Orleans sound. Band was Ree Hot Peppers.
Love it!! Thanks for including it--and all the others. Hooray!
Truly the king of jazz.
clarinet0
The description made me laugh: How could he have done himself harm posthumously ? Aside from rotting?
wilbur_manni n g
great jazz:
Wonder why no one chose to explain the origin of Jelly Roll's unique first name in his Bio? I'd like to know! Anyone out there? Thanks in advance.
One of my favorite artists, but there are a couple of small inaccuracies in the bio above. Mel Stitzel wrote The Chant, and Buddy Bolden himself probably composed Buddy Bolden Blues. Of course, Morton wrote classic arrangements of these pieces.

BTW, in a recent book where the author had obtained new historical records, he documents that many of Morton's so-called exaggerated claims of being cheated left and right by record companies and others were actually correct. Many of his supposedly exagg
Bill Armstrong says:
One of the best going I'd say. What a shame to die at 50 years. I just can't get enough of his records.
fantastic guy, if you like this sort of classic blues/jazz sound check out the works of bert jansch
one of the originals
larry351
some recordings are not of the best quality, s/b digitally remastered.. . f o r optimum enjoyment
I WONDER IF THIS ARTIST HAS RELATIVES IN THE ENTERTAINMEN T BUSINESS IN THE SOUTH,MEANIN G , THERE WAS A MONROE MORTON WHO OWNED A THEATRE IN ATHENS, GA...ALL THE GREATS OF THEIR DAY PLAYED THIS THEATRE WHICH IS ONE OF THE FEW REMAINING OF ITS KIND IN THE U S
THANKS...TUR N E R
poorjoe765
Some of the best piano music ever. Closest thing to the boogie-woogi e of the 30's and 40's.

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